For the full academic year, a select group of Colorado State University students has worked just as professional cattle ranchers would to choose and prepare 50 bulls and young cows for a spring sale.
Efforts of the Seedstock Merchandising Team will culminate March 23-24 with the 36th annual sale of CSU yearling bulls and heifers, an event held jointly with Leachman Cattle of Colorado at the university’s Agricultural Research, Development and Education Center off Interstate 25 north of Fort Collins.
“We have been involved in every single piece and part of preparing these cattle for sale,” said Jessica Hawthorne, a senior majoring in animal science and agricultural economics, and one of eight students on the Seedstock Merchandising Team.
“This is an all-encompassing process. It’s a real-world experience,” added Nick Lemmel, a graduating senior who has been accepted into CSU’s veterinary program.
Offered for sale will be purebred Hereford, purebred Angus and Herford-Angus crossbred cattle, referred to as “seedstock” because the animals are raised to pass on high-quality genetics in cow-calf ranching operations; the CSU bulls and heifers will become the parents and grandparents of beef cattle that ultimately go to market.
About 500 buyers and potential buyers are expected to attend the joint sale, at which Leachman Cattle, of Wellington, will sell several hundred bulls and heifers. The arrangement gives students beneficial experience with a large-scale cattle sale, and makes the undertaking feasible for the university and its student team, said Jason Ahola, an associate professor of beef production systems in the Department of Animal Sciences and faculty adviser to the Seedstock Merchandising Team.
In 2011, total revenue for cattle sold amounted to about $2 million, with an average sales price of $3,350 for CSU bulls. Proceeds from the CSU portion of the cattle sale help support the university cattle herd and the Seedstock Merchandising Team.
“The CSU seedstock cowherd provides great hands-on learning opportunities for our students,” Ahola said. “Our student team is closely involved with the selection and perpetuation of our herd genetics with its work in marketing bulls and heifers born and raised in the CSU teaching herd.”
Members of the Seedstock Merchandising Team are picked each fall during an application and interview process. They work for seven months to prepare for the annual CSU cattle sale, and in so doing have earned two academic credits and important work skills.
The most valuable aspect of team participation, the students said, has been the opportunity to hone so-called “soft skills” – leadership, communication, teamwork, responsibility, work ethic and attention to detail – that are critical to success in any business setting.
“Developing better communication skills has been the most useful part of team involvement for me,” said Matt Noggle, who is studying animal science and agricultural business. “I’ve really enjoyed being able to talk to people in the industry, and I’ve seen that you’ve got to have marketing skills.”
The student team must address every aspect of cattle and sale preparation. The students selected sale animals from the CSU herd last fall, and ever since have tracked cattle weights, feed intake, genetic profiles, physical characteristics and other key data that provide a window on appearance, soundness, carcass traits and growth traits that the cattle will pass on to their offspring.
“We’ve seen that you need to have a goal in mind with your cow herd. You can make more genetic progress that way,” said Kortney Bahem, who is majoring in equine science and animal science.
Likewise, the students have managed cattle veterinary procedures, such as vaccinations and breeding-soundness exams, and have groomed and halter-broken the animals. The team members also have readied sale materials, including videos, a sale catalog, sale invitations, fliers – and even flowers for sale decoration.
During the process, the students worked to drum up interest in their cattle by showing bulls and heifers at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, and by attending important industry events to market their cattle and their program. These events included the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association mid-winter conference in Denver in January and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention in Nashville, Tenn., in February.
“Constantly being out there in the industry has really paid off for us,” Hawthorne said. “This has been like a pre-job.”
Sale events on March 23 include a lunch for buyers, cattle viewing, a producer seminar and a concert featuring performer Red Steagall at Embassy Suites in Loveland. The all-day cattle sale will begin at 9 a.m. March 24 at ARDEC. For more information and a sale catalog, visit the CSU Seedstock Merchandizing Team website, www.csubulls.colostate.edu.